Ethics in research

Ethics in research concerns two issues: the nature of the research itself and the researcher’s personal conduct. Here you can read about the principles of good research practice and what happens when a researcher is suspected of scientific misconduct.

The nature of the research – the interests of participants and research subjects in research projects

Research ethics are not fixed – the principles of best practice and ethical theory develop over time, and as the scientific landscape evolves, the debate about research ethics also moves on. New principles and guidelines are formulated, and old ones are reinterpreted or applied in new ways.

In research that is conduced ethically a reasonable balance has to be struck between various interests and values, each of which seems to be legitimate. The quest for knowledge is one such interest. The integrity of the research subjects as well as protection against various forms of harm or risk of harm are other legitimate interests. The handling of integrity-sensitive material sometimes raises questions about the competing interests of the researcher, the study participants and other researchers, or about what a researcher is able to promise participants, and who owns research material.

Read more in the Swedish Research Council’s publication Good research practice.

The researcher’s conduct – personal ethics in the pursuit of research

In research that is conducted ethically the researchers need to maintain their professional integrity. The All European Academies (ALLEA) publication “The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity” states the fundamental principles on which good research practice is based. The principles are intended to give researchers guidance on practical, ethical and intellectual problems associated with research.

Reliability in safeguarding the quality of the research, which is reflected in the design, method, analysis and use of resources.

Honesty in developing, implementing and scrutinising research, and in reporting and informing others about research in an open, fair, complete and objective way.

Respect for colleagues, research participants, society, ecosystems, cultural heritage and the environment.

Accountability for research from idea to publication, for management and organisation, for education, supervision and mentorship, and for their wider consequences.

The European Code of Conduct for Research IntegrityPDF (pdf, 2.9 MB)

Scientific misconduct

Scientific misconduct is often defined as fabrication, falsification or plagiarism (FFP). But there are also other forms of misconduct, such as self-plagiarism, withholding research results, abuse of a superior position and working without the necessary permits.

Departures from good research practice can result in misleading results, which in the end could lead to harm to humans, animals and the environment. Public trust in researchers and research may also be damaged.

How suspicions of scientific misconduct are handled

The Swedish Higher Education Ordinance (SFS 1993:100) recommends that suspected scientific misconduct should be investigated by the higher education institution (HEI) where the research in question was conducted. During the investigation, the HEI may obtain a statement from the expert group on scientific misconduct at the Ethics Review Appeals Board.

At the Swedish Research Council, we do not conduct investigations into alleged cases of scientific misconduct. On the other hand, a decision by an HEI that a researcher is guilty of scientific misconduct may lead to us terminating the payment of a grant.

The Ethics Review Appeals Boardexternal link

New ways of promoting good research practice and handling scientific misconduct

In spring 2017, a report examining new ways of promoting good research practice and handling scientific misconduct was presented. The report proposed the following:

  • A new public agency should take over the handling of allegations of scientific misconduct. The agency should investigate and decide on the issue.
  • The law should clarify that researchers must conduct research according to good research practice, and that the administering organisation has overall responsibility.
  • New guidelines for promoting good research practice should be developed into a “code of conduct”. In this way, the researcher’s responsibility to follow good research practice will become clearer.

Read more on the Government’s websiteexternal link (in Swedish).

PublISHED ON 10 January 2019

UpDATED ON 11 November 2019

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The Swedish Research Council has two advisory groups on ethical issues:

Expert Group on Ethics

Expert group on laboratory animal science

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